Written by Fedor Tot for Encounters Film Festival.
How do we react to loss?
How do we build ourselves anew?
What do you do if you don’t like who you are?
Seventeen years since its release, Morvern Callar (2002) remains an exceptionally difficult film to pin down, but no less brilliant. It’s a paean to alienation, to the sense of looking at the world around you and being unable to speak to it, unable to respond, to the desire to build a new world for yourself but with that same gnawing feeling going on in the back of your mind, Where can I be happy?
At the start of the film, all we know about the titular character (Samantha Morton) is that her boyfriend has just killed himself, leaving a suicide note and a novel on the computer. By the end of the film, we don’t know much more about her. Callar tries to reach out to the world, in her grief filling the void with her friend Lana (Kathleen McDermott) but nothing seems to resonate. We see her grow increasingly confident as the film goes on, more determined to build a new identity. Is she running away or chasing after something?
Lynne Ramsay’s – and Morton’s film, it feels odd crediting it to just Ramsay as Morton’s presence is so central to the film as a whole, deals more in ellipses than in storytelling. Scenes play out like waking dreams, Callar drifting through both a cold, wet New Year’s in Scotland and a sun-drenched Spain. One scene where she digs her hands into the earth is repeated in both countries, as if trying to see if the soil itself has something to tell her.
Morvern Callar is an enigma, both the film and the character. But perhaps the answer to the film lies in one line written in the suicide note, encapsulating both Ramsey’s filmmaking ethos and Callar’s behaviour, “It just felt like the right thing to do.”